Nutrition Macronutrients

The difference between saturated, unsaturated and trans fats

The difference between saturated, unsaturated and trans fats

by in Nutrition - Macronutrients

last updated: July 27, 2015

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As one of the three macronutrients, fats play a vital role in the growth and development of the human body. They are involved in many physiological processes, and it is good to have an in-depth knowledge of them.

Over the course of many years, I have often seen food trends change. I have seen carbs be demonised and then subsequently promoted and then called into question yet again.

The same is true of other macronutrients, which have been demonised in the past by the same medical community that only really safeguarded olive oil, which then went on to relaunch them again, as has been happening for some time. I'm talking about fats.
Body builders should see the research into their results in terms of muscle growth and/or maintain a certain percentage of fat, while keeping an eye on the quality of the fuel (in this case the oils and fats) they ingest. They should always be very attentive, and where more work is required by people (in terms of refinement or farming), the more the quality drops and risks becoming harmful.
In addition, body builders place a lot of emphasis on the type of protein and carbohydrates they ingest in their diet, but still many do not realise that fats have no less influence than the other two macronutrients when it comes to the desired progress.

So they mistakenly ingest them or cut them out without being clear when to cut what from their diet.

If we analyse a typical body builder's diet, we will quickly notice the presence of various animal fats , especially those derived from meat and eggs, with a net reduction in the consumption of "good" fats.
As one of the three macronutrients, fats play a vital role in the growth and development of the human body. These are involved in many physiological processes, from the formation of cell membranes to nerve transmission, the absorption of certain vitamins, hormone production, thermoregulation and of course, as we all know, a source of ready energy. Fat is characterised by dense calories. Just think that one gram corresponds to 9 calories , and this also translates to a small amount of food, which is great for hardgainers.
It must be said that all fats are not equal, however.

There are four categories of fats:

  • saturates
  • monounsaturates
  • polyunsaturates
  • trans-fats.


Saturated fats

This type of fat is found in a consistent manner in animal products (meat, fish, cheese and milk).

It is important to limit them, because that is still been shown that they raise the values ??of lipoproteins (HDL and LDL).

In general, the main feature of saturated fatty acids is that they have a linear chain formed by simple bonds, i.e. devoid of double bonds.

This gives the fatty acid more stability because it allows it to arrange itself linearly in space, facilitating the molecular interactions. In practical terms, this translates to a high melting point which gives it greater temperature resistance and greater resistance to oxidation.

Saturated fatty acids mainly come from animals, but there are some that are also found in plants, such as palmitic acid, margaric acid and stearic acid. Other saturated fatty acids include caproic acid and butyric acid, which are fats found in milk, myristic acid, which can be found both in milk and fish oil, and cerotic acid, which is extracted from wax. I would like to
add a special note for type of food with lipids that aroused my curiosity years ago - I think I was its first supporter in Italy - namely extra virgin coconut oil, which is a vegetable saturate (92%) with interesting health properties. It contains stearic acid, but 50% of the fat content is lauric acid, which is a very powerful antimicrobial and anti-viral. Coconut oil contains more lauric acid than any other substance on earth. In addition to lauric acid, coconut oil contains good amounts of myristic (18-20%), palmitic (8-9%), caprylic (6-7%) and capric (6%) acid, which are saturated fatty acids, and oleic acid (about 6%), which is a monounsaturated fatty acid (it also has 2% polyunsaturated linoleic acid and omega-6).
One very important additional feature for health and sportspeople cultivating their physique and endurance is a high content of medium chain fatty acids (MCT). MCTs are easily absorbed by the body - specifically by the liver - and are directly converted into energy. This also means that it is difficult to convert MCTs into body fat, which helps explain why coconut oil helps with the slimming process, as it increases the body's metabolism (some studies show this increase to be up to 48% and up to 65% in very obese people, giving them higher energy levels and encouraging weight loss). Ladies and gentlemen who want to lose weight for the summer or for a competition should take it into consideration.

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fatty acids come in the form of liquid vegetable oils, but we should remember that saturates are typically solid animal fats. Unsaturated fats are also metabolised faster.
The body is not able to produce the essential linoleic and linolenic fatty acids. Arachidonic acid can be synthesised from linoleic acid if it is provided to the body in sufficient quantities by the diet, in the form of various foods. Wheat germ, seeds, vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean and rapeseed (the best for a good balance of omega 3 and omega 6) and corn are all omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which contain linoleic acid. We all now know that the cod liver oil and fatty fish contain unsaturated linolenic fatty acids and are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. I won't dwell on this now as types of omega 3 and their cardioprotective effects are in the media so much. We all know about the lowering of triglycerides (and not the bad cholesterol as some mistakenly say!) and interesting anti-inflammatory effects, so much so that a large segment of sporting and non-sporting communities take them as a supplement. Linseed oil contains large amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, but many do not know it is also found in a less rapid bioavailable form compared to fish oil. Unsaturated fatty acids are important for the respiration of vital organs and to facilitate the transportation of oxygen through the bloodstream to the cells, tissues and organs. They also help maintain the elasticity and lubrication of all cells, and are combined with protein and cholesterol to form the living membranes that hold the cells of the body together.
Do unsaturated fatty acids help regulate the rate of blood clotting and play a vital role in breaking down the cholesterol deposited on the walls of the arteries, the beneficial "scavenger" effect? I would say so.  Unsaturated fatty acids nourish skin cells and are effective at keeping the mucus membranes and nerves healthy. They are truly useful in many ways, and justify their presence in everyone's ideal diet. Few people know that unsaturated fatty acids cooperate with vitamin D to make calcium available to the tissues, in the assimilation of phosphorus, and in stimulating the conversion of carotene into vitamin A, and are also connected to the normal functioning of the reproductive system. Bring on our beloved olive oil!


Peanut butter

Trans fats and hydrogenated fatty acids

Trans fats are mostly found in hydrogenated fats, and therefore in the much appreciated fried foods or margarines. But we should remember that too much overheating (such as frying, light or high temperatures) encourages cis/trans mutation. There are also natural elements that contain insignificant amounts of these harmful molecules, such as dairy and meat products. This phenomenon is related to the gastrointestinal physiology of ruminants, which undergo bacterial fermentation of the digestive contents during the whole process of digestion. As part of this, microorganisms covert some cis fatty acids into trans-fatty acids, which are then absorbed in the intestine, secreted in milk and accumulated in meat.
Then, alas, we find that the food industry uses a physical-chemical process called hydrogenation, meaning that fat obtained in this way has a totally different quality from the fat as it was at the beginning. Why?
"Simple": robustness, shelf-life and cost, but to the detriment of the buyer's health!
Foods rich in trans fat worsen the transportation of fats in the blood by lipoproteins, which reduce the number of transporters taking cholesterol from the peripheries to the liver (HDLs) and increase the carriers taking cholesterol from the liver to the peripheries (LDLs). In the long term, this undesirable mechanism can cause oxidised LDLs to accumulate in the vascular walls, with inflammatory processes encouraging the formation of atherosclerotic plaque and all the risks that result from it.


Omega 3 pearls

Let's take science into the kitchen

For many years, saturated fats were condemned, like witches at the stake. They were accused of being the main "bad" element because of the development of heart disease, while mono and polyunsaturates were always considered healthy. With the exception of the trans fats produced by people, which are a truly harmful bomb putting the body at risk, all other types should have their own place within your diet if you want to stick to a certain healthy mould. However, even now it is still easy to find specialists in the food sector confuse and equate the various types, without knowing their different characteristic, not to mention the information given out on TV. Some of the most used vegetable fats are olive oil (lipid-rich gold that so many people overseas envy for), canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, peanut, palm oil and, recently, coconut oil etc. In principle, all of these have different beneficial effects for the organism. Trans-fats are also important in small quantities, but if they are produced by human work, as in the case of "margarine", their harmfulness to health is now known to be an absolute fact. But in my opinion, the most serious matter is that the fats most used in cooking today, such as maize, peanut, sunflower and palm oil, are some of the worst that you can eat, and yet they are marketed as being entirely healthy. Often they also contain toxic elements from refining. If you use them for baking, or worse still, for frying, we come across trans fats once again.
Of these oils derived from vegetables, the edible part in the initial state of the plant or seed remains a genuine source of fat, but once they are processed and refined the beneficial effects disappear. Be careful if you want to add seasoning or extra flavour with this type of fat. It is hard to find healthy characteristics equivalent to our olive oil in them, even if they are the highest quality and have not been "laced" with other "bad oils".
In addition to the plant derivatives, there are also fats that originate from animals, such as butter, or those from red meat or salmon, as well as from the humble yolk. Here too, there are various factors that should be taken into account when choosing whether to eat them. Was
the animal raised on natural feed, pastures or "fattening" flour from factory farms?
- do you know if it has been subjected to antibiotics because of the frequent infections that affect animals in cramped barns?
- were they given growth promoting drugs (only for weight and therefore water)?
It's difficult to know, or rather relatively difficult, but we can start from the fact that "we are what we eat", and in this case, in today's day, we can say that we are what the animal eats! If the animal eat toxic elements, they will be accumulated by its flesh, muscle and lipid tissue. The ideal situation is when the animal is raised in a pasture, where its lipid component has an optimal balance and isn't altered. The same also applies the values ??of omega 3 and 6 if animals are fed from sacks of corn and soybean. If they are reared according to more natural methods, the nutritional profile of the milk will be very different, and obviously so will that of butter.

The same goes for salmon, for example, and for all fish. There is a substantial difference in nutritional values, especially in the lipids and famous "good omega 3" fats, between fresh catch and raised fish, which loses almost all its qualities.

So, if we take the animal-derived fats in our diet into account, we can know what we buy, yet it is also true that if you choose to eat "organic" the price goes up considerably. However, remember that the lipid content of our beloved beef or egg yolks derived from terrible factory farms will not exactly as you think they are, and may in fact be very different and sometimes even harmful.
*** I often find myself discussing this topic, and I will probably add a follow up on it with additional insights into the most healthy choices to make in the shopping cart.
There is also a class of foods with lipids known as semi-processed, which are of great interest for bodybuilders who need more dense calories in certain moments of their training cycle, or even for sportspeople in general who want to feed themselves while exploiting the beneficial powers of fats, as well as those interested in endurance and using them for energy. I'm talking about butter made from nuts, such as peanuts. Warning! Many of these butters are very popular, but it is important to pay close attention to the nutritional table. Many have added trans-fats or even sugar to make them more palatable.
So, let us be careful when we see writing stating "all natural" or "raw" that doesn't have any additional details about the raw ingredients. While they are tasty, they can also become fattening, as well as creating a bad combination in terms of health: "good" fats + trans-fats or "good" fats + sugar. Terrible.
In conclusion, whatever food philosophy you follow, it is advisable to take them into account and introduce a percentage of 20-30% of fats into the total amount of calories. This is very general advice. I am not referring to competitive athletes preparing for body building competitions, where everything is highly variable, subjective and susceptible to various factors. I'm speaking exclusively in relation to "good health", but these factors can be relevant to sportspeople for many reasons, especially in muscle building phases where the lipid portion of calories has a supporting role. Moreover, I would like to point out that going below these thresholds leads to deficiencies and potentially immune and hormonal issues.

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